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Interview with Athan Mavrantonis | The winner of the recent Data for a Cause challenge

In this interview, I talked with Athan Mavrantonis, the winner of the recent Data for a Cause challenge – Visualizing World's Protected Areas for Protected Planet.

Athan lives in Greece, and works as a web developer and digital marketing specialist at Webchip. Although, his background is in IT and computer science, Athan is very interested in data. He has been using Tableau for about 6 months now, and already he has won the recent Data for a Cause challenge and has been nominated one of the winners of Tableau's Iron Viz Europe Contest. He learned Tableau on his own, using online resources, and has been perfecting his skill by participating in data visualization competitions. "If you don't practice you don't learn", says Athan.

Without keeping you waiting any longer, here is Athan’s inspiring story!

Where did you find your inspiration for your data visualization?

I love Ireland and some of the places there, so I chose to work on that specific country. Also, I liked the subject of the challenge (nature conservation). And I finally found time to contribute to the project - I’d been hoping to contribute to the Data for a Cause project for a few months, but I couldn't find the time.

Initially, I worked with the dataset for the whole world, but then I went to their website and downloaded the data just for Ireland. After I got the dataset, I immediately started vizzing, because it was the final day before the deadline and I had about 4 to 5 hours left! Although time was short, I felt it was a good amount of time to be able to contribute.

What is your data visualization process? Do you have a routine that you follow?

I'm relatively new, so I think I'm still developing my process. I'm generally not that strict with the rules, especially when creativity is involved. I'm trying to find what works best, the process, and what would help me to convey my message better.

The first thing I think about is the audience: what do they need, what questions need to be answered? Then I look into the data, and in the case of Data for a Cause, the dataset is provided. In other cases, I might do some research, find relevant data, or possibly scrape them from different sources and create my own dataset. After that I make time for the data preparation, which of course depends on the project and the dataset before me. Finally, when I'm ready with my data, I think about how I can make a story, which is the crucial point. I do some brainstorming and some exploratory analysis to find out what my story should be. And when I feel confident about it, I think about how should I tell it - what charts to use, what the design layout should be, how to work with the color theme - and possibly make a sketch or a wireframe to create a general plan. The process can differ according to how much time I have.

Finally, when I’ve finished my viz, I try to get some feedback. I believe the best thing is to get some feedback not only from a subject matter expert, but also from someone who doesn't know anything about the subject. This helps you give some depth to the analysis and at the same time keep it simple, so everyone can understand. So that's my process.

What are some of your favorite data visualization resources?

I'm yet to read many books on the subject, but I like 'The Truthful Art' by Alberto Cairo.

I took some online courses by Coursera and also the University of California Davis. They have great resources on data visualization theory. These were very helpful for me as an introduction to data visualization.

What is your favorite data visualization tool?

I picked out Tableau about 6 months ago, and I stick with it. It's really user friendly.If someone wants to start learning, there are many resources available. You can start creating some basic visualizations within minutes of using the tool. It's essential for beginners to feel that they can easily use the tool, but it is when you get further that you really start understanding the depth of the software and the possibilities it offers. So it's really inspiring to keep learning. There is also an amazing team behind Tableau. They are very encouraging and supportive. I got to Iron Viz Europe within 6 months, which shows that anyone can go from zero to this level in 6 months if they are prepared to put the effort and time into it!

Athan's data visualization (click on the image to view the interactive version):

This concludes the third of the series of interviews with winners of the Data for a Cause challenge, where volunteers from all over the world design data visualizations for mission-driven organizations, NGOs and charities.

In each article of this series, we focus on one of our amazing volunteers, to share their story or perspective, and to reveal their insights on how they achieved the level of expertise they have today. Read interviews with past winners, and learn how Angie Chan and Amarendranath Donthala created their winning data visualizations.

Can you create data visualizations? Then join the Data for a Cause challenge!

#DataforaCauseWinnerInterview #InterviewwithAthanMavrantonis